COVID-19 update for Aug. 2: ‘Living with COVID’ — where the pandemic could go next | Inside a super-secure lab trying to prevent next pandemic

Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the coronavirus situation in B.C. and around the world.

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Here’s your update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for Aug. 2, 2022.

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We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly every day this week, with developments added as they happen, so be sure to check back often.

You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.

Here are the latest B.C. figures given on July 28:

• Hospitalized cases: 401
• Intensive care: 35
• New cases: 921 over seven days ending July 21
• Total number of confirmed cases: 378,291
• Total deaths over seven days until July 23: 29 (total 3,908)
Read the full report here | Next update: Aug. 4 at 3 p.m. (or later)

Headlines at a glance

• The head of a major Quebec nurses union says some health workers there have been asked to report to work while suffering from serious symptoms of COVID-19
• As the third winter of the COVID-19 pandemic looms in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning governments and citizens alike to brace for more waves.
• U.S. President Joe Biden tests positive for COVID-19 in ‘rebound’ case
• Inside a super-secure Swiss lab trying to prevent the next pandemic
Pro-vaccination Austrian doctor kills herself after months of death threats
• Experts say people at high risk of severe disease who have yet to get a second COVID-19 booster should not wait for next-generation, Omicron-targeted vaccines expected in the fall
• Is COVID prematurely aging our immune systems?
• Two new studies point to the Wuhan wet market as the likely source of COVID
• Ontario doctor suspended for spreading COVID disinformation
• Japan urges regions to mount COVID fight as variant spreads
• Project tracking COVID-19 in Canadian long-term care paused due to lack of data
• Airport COVID measures derail Israeli terror survivors’ trip to Canada’s Wonderland
• COVID-19 vaccine bookings for babies and toddlers open in Ontario
• Add sexual dysfunction and hair loss to the list of symptoms of long COVID: Study
• Omicron BA.5 variant makes up 82 per cent of COVID cases in U.S.: CDC

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Some Quebec health workers sick with COVID-19 being asked back to work, union says

Some Quebec health workers have been asked to report to work in recent days while suffering from serious symptoms of COVID-19, including nausea, vomiting, headaches and serious fatigue, the head of a major Quebec nurses union said Monday.

Bringing a symptomatic, COVID-19-positive worker back on the job is “completely unacceptable” and runs counter to public health recommendations, Julie Bouchard of the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec said.

“While the entire population is asked to stay home and isolate to avoid contamination when they have symptoms or are positive for COVID-19, workers in the health network can still go to work, risk contaminating our colleagues, make already vulnerable patients even sicker,” she said in a phone interview.

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“It goes completely counter to what Public Health has been saying to the Quebec population for weeks.”

Read the full story here.

— The Canadian Press

Axcella long COVID treatment helps some patients in small trial

One of the first trials aimed at tackling long COVID helped some patients recover from lingering physical and mental fatigue, although the drug developed by Axcella Health Inc failed on the small study’s main goal of restoring the normal function of mitochondria — the energy factories of cells.

In the 41-patient pilot study released on Tuesday, for three of 21 patients who received the drug, AXA1125, their physical fatigue scores returned to normal levels after 28 days of treatment, Axcella Chief Medical Officer Margaret Koziel said in a phone interview.

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Others who received the drug also reported physical and mental improvements that were deemed to be statistically significant as shown on a scale developed to measure chronic fatigue, according to the preliminary results, and the drug was shown to be safe and well tolerated.

“This trial is suggesting that a drug that’s very safe to take and has minimal side effects is causing substantial improvement in people’s physical and cognitive experience of fatigue,” said Dr. Jason Maley, a consultant for Axcella who runs a long COVID clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The drug, originally developed for fatty liver disease, aims to treat the crushing chronic fatigue reported by more than half of long COVID sufferers by restoring normal function of mitochondria, the minuscule power plants that help cells perform properly.

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Read the full story here.

— Reuters

‘Living with COVID’: Where the pandemic could go next

As the third winter of the coronavirus pandemic looms in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning weary governments and populations alike to brace for more waves of COVID-19.

In the U.S. alone, there could be up to a million infections a day this winter, Chris Murray, head of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent modelling group at the University of Washington that has been tracking the pandemic, told Reuters. That would be around double the current daily tally.

Across the United Kingdom and Europe, scientists predict a series of COVID waves, as people spend more time indoors during the colder months, this time with nearly no masking or social distancing restrictions in place.

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However, while cases may surge again in the coming months, deaths and hospitalizations are unlikely to rise with the same intensity, the experts said, helped by vaccination and booster drives, previous infection, milder variants and the availability of highly effective COVID treatments.

“The people who are at greatest risk are those who have never seen the virus, and there’s almost nobody left,” said Murray.

These forecasts raise new questions about when countries will move out of the COVID emergency phase and into a state of endemic disease, where communities with high vaccination rates see smaller outbreaks, possibly on a seasonal basis.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden tests positive for COVID again

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President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 for the second straight day, in what appears to be a rare case of “rebound” following treatment with an anti-viral drug.

In a letter noting the positive test, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, the White House physician, said Sunday that the president “continues to feel well” and will keep on working from the executive residence while he isolates.

Biden tested positive on Saturday, requiring him to cancel travel and in-person events as he isolates for at least five days in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

Macau to reopen city as no COVID infections detected for 9 days

Macau will reopen public services and entertainment facilities, and allow dining-in at restaurants from Tuesday, authorities said, as the world’s biggest gambling hub seeks a return to normalcy after finding no COVID-19 cases for nine straight days.

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Beauty salons, fitness centers, and bars too will be allowed to resume operations, the government said in a statement on Monday. The announcement came as authorities also reported on Monday that July monthly casino revenues dropped 95% year on year to 0.4 billion patacas ($49.5 million), the lowest on record.

Casinos were closed for 12 days in July, reopening on July 23 as authorities began unwinding stringent measures which required most businesses and premises to shut.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

New Zealand’s borders fully open after long pandemic closure

New Zealand’s borders fully re-opened to visitors from around the world on Monday, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed them in March 2020.

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New Zealand’s borders started reopening in February first for New Zealanders and restrictions have progressively eased.

The process of reopening the borders ended last night with visitors who need visas and those on student visas now also allowed to return to New Zealand. New Zealand is now also letting cruise ships and foreign recreational yachts docks at its ports.

International students were a significant contributor to New Zealand’s economy and educational providers are hoping the reopening of the borders will again provide a boost to schools and universities around the country.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday during a speech at the China Business Summit in Auckland that the final staged opening of the borders had been an enormous moment.

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“It’s been a staged and cautious process on our part since February as we, alongside the rest of the world continue to manage a very live global pandemic, while keeping our people safe.”

— Reuters

Inside a super-secure Swiss lab trying to prevent the next pandemic

The setting is straight from a spy thriller: Crystal waters below, snow-capped Swiss Alps above and in between, a super-secure facility researching the world’s deadliest pathogens.

Spiez Laboratory, known for its detective work on chemical, biological and nuclear threats since World War II, was tasked last year by the World Health Organization to be the first in a global network of high-security laboratories that will grow, store and share newly discovered microbes that could unleash the next pandemic.

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The WHO’s BioHub program was, in part, born of frustration over the hurdles researchers faced in getting samples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, first detected in China, to understand its dangers and develop tools to fight it.

But just over a year later, scientists involved in the effort have encountered hurdles.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

B.C. reports 401 in hospital, 29 deaths for week of July 17-23

Twenty-nine more people died with COVID-19 in the latest weekly update from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control released on Thursday.

The update covers the week of July 17 to 23 and reports all patients who tested positive for COVID-19 within a month of their deaths. The CDC investigates confirmed cause of death in all cases but that process takes up to two months, so the numbers are considered preliminary.

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Overall, 3,908 people have died of COVID-19 in the province since the beginning of the pandemic two and a half years ago.

As of Thursday, there were 401 people in hospital with COVID, 35 of whom were in critical care. Those numbers are accurate as of July 28. It’s a jump of more than 150 hospitalized patients from the previous weekly report, when 246 people were in care.

There were 921 new cases reported over the week, though that number underrepresents the true prevalence of the virus due to limits on testing.

— Joseph Ruttle

Is COVID prematurely aging our immune systems?

In a recent situation update, Ontario public health officials noted that evidence is emerging SARS-CoV-2 can cause “immune dysregulation,” a vague term that’s used when the immune system isn’t behaving normally.

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White blood cell counts may be off, immune cells don’t work the way they should, inflammation is higher than it should be. “Long story short, COVID-19 leads to lasting, and possibly permanent changes in immune cells in some, but not all, people,” McMaster University immunologist Dawn Bowdish said.

Research is suggesting that T cells, the cells that help produce antibodies and kill infected cells, are taking a particular hit, and that repeated SARS-CoV-2 infections may be prematurely aging human immune systems.

The scale isn’t yet clear. However, “a potential increase in acquired impaired immunity in the Ontario population could have significant impact on the incidence and associated burden of infectious diseases ….and other conditions in the longer-term,” reads the Public Health Ontario evidence brief.

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Read the full story here.

—Sharon Kirkey, National Post

If you’re high risk, do not wait for updated COVID vaccines, experts say

People at high risk of severe disease who have yet to get a second COVID-19 booster should not wait for next-generation, Omicron-targeted vaccines expected in the fall, five vaccine experts told Reuters.

In many countries, including the United States, the BA.5 Omicron subvariant of the virus is surging, but current vaccines continue to offer protection against hospitalization for severe disease and death.

And, as the virus evolves, it is not known what version will be widely circulating in the fall or whether new vaccines – expected to target BA.4/5 in the United States and BA.1 in Europe – will be a good match.

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“If you need a booster, get it now,” said Dr. John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, who co-wrote an editorial on the subject currently under review.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

University of Toronto requiring students living in residence to be triple-vaccinated

Students and staff planning to live in University of Toronto residences will need to have two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine and at least one booster dose before moving in this September.

The university says it recently reinstated the vaccination requirement for students and employees living in its residences.

The school says in a memo to students and staff that being up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations offers the best protection against severe illness.

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The university stopped requiring proof of vaccination for those attending classes in person on May 1.

It also gradually lifted its mask mandate in its indoor spaces.

The university still encourages people to wear medical masks in high-density indoor spaces when physical distancing is not possible.

— The Canadian Press

Was your last COVID shot more than 5 months ago? Get another, Quebec recommends

Quebec’s public health chief is urging all citizens to get a booster shot if five months or more have elapsed since their last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The booster shot is especially important for people 60 and older and for individuals with chronic illnesses, Dr. Luc Boileau said Friday. Still, Quebecers of all ages would benefit from a new dose because the protection afforded by the vaccine declines over time, he said. People who got COVID-19 in May, June or July are advised to wait three months, then get their booster shot, he added.

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“If it’s been five months since you had a booster dose, it’s time to get a new one because immunity drops after five or six months,” Boileau said at a news conference in Montreal. “We will be prudent to give ourselves all the best chance of avoiding a grave illness. It’s about updating your immunity.”

Read the full story here.

— Montreal Gazette

New studies bolster theory novel coronavirus emerged from the wild

Two new studies provide more evidence that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Wuhan, China market where live animals were sold — further bolstering the theory that the virus emerged in the wild rather than escaping from a Chinese lab.

The research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science, shows that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was likely the early epicentre of the scourge that has now killed nearly 6.4 million people around the world. Scientists conclude that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, likely spilled from animals into people two separate times.

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“All this evidence tells us the same thing: It points right to this particular market in the middle of Wuhan,” said Kristian Andersen, a professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and co-author of one of the studies. “I was quite convinced of the lab leak myself until we dove into this very carefully and looked at it much closer.”

Read the full story here.

— The Associated Press

Ontario doctor suspended for spreading COVID disinformation, latest in string of pandemic-defying MDs

Dr. Jeff Matheson was not exactly on message with COVID-19.

The Toronto-area physician refused to wear a mask and urged patients to remove theirs, saying they actually did harm. He told them the pandemic was a media-driven hoax designed to profit the likes of Bill Gates, that COVID test results were being sold to China for DNA sequencing and parents should sue schools if they make their kids wear face-coverings.

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Ontario’s medical regulator suspended Matheson’s licence for nine months recently, calling his actions “disgraceful, dishonourable and unprofessional.”

But the COVID-denying MD is hardly alone.

Throughout the pandemic, complaints have poured into colleges of physicians and surgeons accusing doctors of flouting public-health rules, promoting conspiracy theories, prescribing unproven treatments and issuing bogus vaccine-exemption letters.

Read the full story here.

— Tom Blackwell, National Post

Japan urges regions to mount COVID fight as variant spreads

Japan is encouraging regional authorities to take steps to contain a new coronavirus variant that has sent cases to record levels, but there is no plan for sweeping national measures.

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A seventh wave of COVID-19 pushed the daily tally of new cases in Japan to a record 233,094 on Thursday as the BA.5 variant spreads, putting pressure on medical services and disrupting some company operations.

Japan has never imposed national lockdowns on the scale of some other countries and has instead periodically asked people to stay at home as much as possible and limited the opening hours of restaurants and bars.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara on Friday said regional authorities should tailor their response to their specific situations.

“Rather than a national response, we want to support regional authorities in their efforts that are based on their local situations,” Kihara told a regular news conference.

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— Reuters

Project tracking COVID-19 in Canadian long-term care paused due to lack of data

A think tank that’s been compiling data on COVID-19 in Canadian long-term care homes says it has to stop its work because provinces are no longer making enough information public about the spread of the virus in the sector.
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The project run by the National Institute on Ageing, based at Toronto Metropolitan University, launched in April 2020 and presents information about cases, outbreaks and deaths at long-term care homes in the form of a map, with a summary for each province and territory.

It has provided data to organizations including the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information and has contributed to national and international research on COVID-19 in a sector that’s seen a large portion of Canada’s deaths due to the virus.

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But provinces have been sharing less data on outbreaks and cases since the start of this year and information is being made publicly available with far less frequency than in the past. The situation has reached a point where it’s now too difficult to keep the think tank’s project alive, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the institute.

— The Canadian Press

Airport COVID measures derail Israeli terror survivors’ trip to Canada’s Wonderland

A group of Israeli summer campers, all victims of terrorist violence, had to spend the first day of a charity-sponsored trip to Canada on Wednesday scrambling to meet a COVID test deadline instead of visiting Canada’s Wonderland, after nearly half of the 33 children were selected for random testing at the Toronto airport, organizers say.

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“We wake up to 15 emails, telling 15 of the kids they need to go get tested,” a charity organizer said.

The rules under the federal government’s newly implemented off-site random COVID testing program for international arrivals require that anyone selected for random screening must complete the tests by midnight the next day.

The situation was made even more complex as the children aren’t English speakers and were billeted with families across the Greater Toronto Area, forcing organizers to drive to various points around the city Wednesday to help the kids meet the impending deadline. That meant cancelling Wednesday’s already-paid-for excursions to Niagara Falls and Canada’s Wonderland, with organizers spending the day instead helping the 15 campers fill out paperwork and find a LifeLabs location willing to test them all at once.

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— Bryan Passifiume

COVID-19 vaccine bookings for babies and toddlers open in Ontario

Ontario parents can book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for their babies and preschoolers starting today.

The province’s booking portal opened for pediatric vaccine appointments for children aged six months to under five years at 8 a.m.

Families can also make appointments through health units using their own booking systems as well as some primary care providers and pharmacies.

Clinics for the youngest age group are scheduled to ramp up across the province in the coming days and some are planning to host appointments today.

Toronto Public Health says it expects to start administering shots to babies and toddlers today and some pharmacies are also in position to start vaccinating.

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— The Canadian Press

Long COVID symptoms include sexual dysfunction, hair loss: Study

Add loss of hair and libido to the symptoms associated with long COVID, U.K. researchers warn.

They compared nearly half a million people who recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infections before the middle of April 2021, without having been hospitalized, with nearly two million uninfected people of similar age, gender and health status.

Overall, 62 persistent symptoms were significantly associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection after 12 weeks, the researchers reported on Monday in Nature Medicine.

Among the most common were shortness of breath, smell distortions, chest pain and fever, but the study also identified memory problems, inability to perform familiar movements or commands, bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations, and limb swelling as being more common in people with long COVID.

Read the full story here.
— Reuters

Omicron BA.5 makes up 82% of COVID variants in U.S.: CDC

The BA.5 subvariant of Omicron was estimated to make up 81.9% of the circulating coronavirus variants in the United States for the week ended July 23, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

This was higher than the 75.9% prevalence estimated in the preceding week.

BA.5 has been driving a surge of new infections globally and has shown to be particularly good at evading the immune protection afforded either by vaccination or prior infection.

Omicron subvariant BA.4 was estimated to make up 12.9% of the circulating variants in the United States, the data showed.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

Calls from travellers, experts to ditch ArriveCan app grow despite glitch fix

Calls to scrap the ArriveCan app continue from experts in medicine and technology as well as travellers, even after the federal government fixed a technical glitch that instructed some users to quarantine unnecessarily..

While the defect was fixed last Wednesday, social media platforms are replete with posts from passengers complaining the app as a whole is not user-friendly.

The union representing border services agents estimates some 30 per cent of border crossers haven’t completed it, prolonging traveller processing times amid an already chaotic travel season.“We’re so short-staffed and spending so much time dealing with this app that we really don’t have time to do our actual jobs anymore,” Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said in an interview.Read the full story here.— The Canadian Press

What are B.C.’s current public health measures?

MASKS: Masks are not required in public indoor settings though individual businesses and event organizers can choose to require them.

Masks are also encouraged but not required on board public transit and B.C. Ferries, though they are still required in federally regulated travel spaces such as trains, airports and airplanes, and in health care settings.

GATHERINGS AND EVENTS: There are currently no restrictions on gatherings and events such as personal gatherings, weddings, funerals, worship services, exercise and fitness activities, and swimming pools.There are also no restrictions or capacity limits on restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs; and no restrictions on sport activities.

CARE HOMES: There are no capacity restrictions on visitors to long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, however, visitors must show proof of vaccination before visiting. Exemptions are available for children under the age of 12, those with a medical exemption, and visitors attending for compassionate visits related to end-of-life.

Visitors to seniors’ homes are also required to take a rapid antigen test before visiting the facility or be tested on arrival. Exemptions to testing are available for those attending for compassionate visits or end-of-life care.

How do I get vaccinated in B.C.?

Everyone who is living in B.C. and eligible for a vaccine can receive one by following these steps:

• Get registered online at to book an appointment in your community.
• Or, if you prefer, you can get registered and then visit a drop-in clinic in your health authority.
• The system will alert you when it is time to go for your second dose.
• The same system will also alert you when it is time for your booster dose.

Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

TESTING CENTRES: B.C.’s COVID-19 test collection centres are currently only testing those with symptoms who are hospitalized, pregnant, considered high risk or live/work with those who are high risk. You can find a testing centre using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s testing centre map.

If you have mild symptoms, you do not need a test and should stay home until your fever is gone. Those without symptoms do not need a test.

TAKE-HOME RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS: Eligible British Columbians over the age of 18 with a personal health number can visit a pharmacy to receive a free take-home test kit containing five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.

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